The case for pain

As humans, we instinctively turn away from pain. Yet, great thinkers guide us to move toward pain as the shortest route for curing what ails us. Pain is the messenger that directs us towards a pain-free life.

Yet, we are hard-wired to turn away from pain.

Physically, we take pills and see docs who give us shots and treatments to cure our pain. But we’re never truly cured, the pain usually returns because we haven’t done the work to find the source of pain and address it.

An example might be knee pain, which the doctor will “cure” by looking at your knee and giving you something to make your knee feel better. But what if the source of your pain is from tight hips, or tight glutes, or tight whatevers?

We all know the familiar path of going in circles because we spend the majority of our waking hours doing it. While we complain about not having enough time, we are losing precious time. While we are avoiding pain, we are losing the opportunity to learn from it.

Our lives are not straight lines, but circuitous routes with many dead ends that we are hell-bent on exploring because the straight line is far too painful. So we bide our time until we realize that there is no other way forward.

But here is where it gets interesting.

Exposing ourselves to minimal and manageable levels of pain can help us learn how to cope with pain rather than fear it. We can learn to suffer better.

And here is where it gets really interesting.

Yoga is the process of “yolking” the body, mind and spirit. We can heal the body through the mind; we can heal the mind through the body; we can heal the spirit through the mind, and so on.

Is there a correlation between learning to suffer at low levels of physical pain in order to better manage mental and emotional pain? There are many books written by people who have done exactly that… gone into the pain in one way to resolve pain felt in other aspects of their life.

The soma, or feeling sense, is not only physical but also emotional and spiritual. And as bull-headed humans, we are capable of developing our feeling sense to improve our ability to face and manage pain.

But just because we are capable, does not mean that we are going to do it.

Just as we are accustomed to activating our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response), we can similarly learn to activate our para-sympathetic nervous system (breathing in times of distress).

In times like this, we need to be reminded that times like this represent the rare opportunities in life that we are given to move toward what ails us so that we can heal. Put simply, investigating and exploring all the dimensions of the pain available to help learn and grow through the pain.

This is a practice for all of us that we never truly master. The fits-and-starts are not the path toward a goal, they are the path. Peace is not something we have to find, it is always inside of us… we just have to develop our ability to listen inward.

As we grow, we learn to move through pain more slowly. The pain never leaves us, so we learn to acknowledge it for being the constant companion and recognize its value to our well-being.

At times, we find ourselves face down in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and drinking alone in a dark room on a Saturday night. Our constant companion is there with us. At times, we find ourselves wandering the streets aimlessly or driving down a road that leads nowhere, dreading going home. Our constant companion is there with us.

We find ourselves screaming out for someone to listen and understand. Our constant companion is there with us. But we do not recognize our own messenger.

We find ourselves alone with a mountain of problems that we know can only be solved by taking one small step… then another… then another. But we know the steps are painful. And the baby is crying. And the dog is barking. And the bill collector is calling. And we are slowly and purposefully gaining a new world.

This is the path. We visualize floating and gliding on a carefree, joyous journey and fight for this path, as the reality of stumbling and falling and failing and suffering presents itself repeatedly. We turn away, cursing and shunning and kicking and screaming. We deny until we are dead tired and have given all that we have left to give… until we are broken.

We learn the lesson a thousand times over, only to repeat it yet again.

We think we are doing it wrong because it makes so little sense. So we go to the therapist, and then another therapist, and then another therapist. We get into relationships and then we get out of relationships. Only to find ourselves in the exact same place.

We try yoga. We try meditation. We try banging drums. We try Netflix binge watching. We try forest bathing. We try crystal healing. We try aromatherapy. Only to find ourselves in the same exact place.

We think we are alone. We compare ourselves to others and believe their lives are better than ours. We try hedonic adaptation by trying to be like them, only to feel more alone than ever before.

We think our problems are unique. We convince ourselves that Albert Schweitzer was wrong when he said that “we are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.” We think that if we try hard enough, we will find the way out… but we never do. We just find ourselves in the exact same place.

When we are truly exhausted and feel that we are out of options, we know that we have arrived at our destination. We give up the fight, we let go of the need to control. We let all the people who have wronged us or judged us off the hook. We no longer need to be right. We no longer need to be better than anyone else.

Because we have arrived. And when we arrive, we realize that we have not reached the destination of our dreams. Rather, we are at a new starting point with a more clear vision of the actual path, rather than the hoped for and wished for path that doesn’t even exist anyway.

We silence the fairy tale and accept that life is hard and we are imperfect and there is no destination, there is only more path ahead. And instead of feeling overwhelmed, we smile confidently and take a step forward.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.








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